ARCHDALE, N.C. (BP)-–A man wearing a red cowboy shirt, dark jeans, brown boots and a beige cowboy hat stepped into the middle of the freshly-graded dirt at Triad Livestock Arena in Archdale in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point.
“Hey folks. Are y’all ready to rumble?” Jeff Smith asked the crowd of about 1,000, who responded with a loud yell.
As “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” played over the arena’s speakers, a group of cowboys and cowgirls rode into the ring on horseback to pump up the crowd for the Cowboy Stampede. The June 10 event was one of dozens during Crossover Triad preceding the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 13-14 in Greensboro.
The stampede showcased the talent of cowboys and cowgirls from across North Carolina. And, later, the same cowboy who had stepped into the arena to begin the show grabbed his Bible and gave a message.
“This sort of thing draws people in,” said Jay Willard, one of the event’s organizers. “They see an event like this put on by Christians and it’s a good influence. It’s good for them to see that Christians can have a good time too.”
Smith, of the Cowboy Church Network of North America in Midland, N.C., has assisted in the incorporation of cowboy churches across the country. After pastoring traditional churches for 20 years, the ardent cowboy decided to reach out to people who told him they ride their horses on Saturday and Sunday.
One day, he told some fellow cowboys in Mount Pleasant, N.C., he would rent out the Circle K arena on Sunday if they would come to hear a message and ride. It worked: 68 people showed up the first time and the idea for a cowboy church was born.
Doug Davis, pastor of the Triad Cowboy Church, said the cowboy congregation sings hymns, prays and hears a message and an invitation just like traditional churches, but it’s the atmosphere that makes it different. Members don’t have to be cowboys to attend the Tuesday night services, and they can wear whatever they like -— western gear, shorts and T-shirts or business clothes. Pony rides begin and end the service and fellowship events may include trail rides and cookouts.
“These churches are one of the hottest things going,” Smith said. “The cowboy church movement has grown so fast. It’s working. Cowboys who weren’t going anywhere before now have somewhere to go.”
The wooden stands were packed, leaving standing room only at the Cowboy Stampede, sponsored in part by the North American Mission Board in conjunction with its church-planting efforts.
Various riders entertained the crowd by riding bulls, racing around barrels and cutting in tight around poles. But the event-goers weren’t limited to a rodeo experience; they were presented with the Gospel message.
The Harvest bluegrass band strummed guitars and banjos, singing of God and His love. An opening flag ceremony included the Christian flag along with the American flag. About 100 volunteers passed out cowboy Bibles and pamphlets containing information cards requesting information about the visitors’ relationship with Christ.
At the end of the exhibition, an estimated 30 people had established a new relationship with Christ. Smith said he is pleased as long as people left experiencing God’s love and knowing He loves them.
“Our common denominator isn’t a horse,” Smith told attendees at a cowboy church service Sunday morning. “It’s the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jamie Gentner, a student at Biola University in California, is part of the Collegiate Journalism Conference sponsored by Baptist Press and associated with an internship through Campbell University in North Carolina.